Hey peeps it’s that time of the year again! Wedding high season is here. Everybody’s getting married/ engaged and I’m just over here like… Anyway it’s my birthday today! Another year has gone by without negative incidents, and I thank God. I’ve just returned from camping in Samburu (post coming up soon). Life may be challenging but it sure beats the alternative. Any day above ground is a good day. And so I give thanks. For life, for all God has helped me achieve- chief among them being able to grow out my natural hair. If you’re a natural hair enthusiast, read on. If you’re not, still read on…you may learn a thing or two. 🙂
How it all began
So…where do I start? It’s quite a story. My hair has been natural most of my life. Except once when I was young and I remember Dark n Lovely relaxer being used. I really wanted my hair to look like the little girl on the box. Guess it was the in thing back then. The other time was just before joining high school. The school didn’t allow plaits or braids. Breaks to go home were few and far between (it was a boarding school). That left me with two options: cut it off or apply relaxer. I went for the latter. It was a decision that I came to regret greatly.
The turning point(s)
In just one year, my hair had gone from thick and healthy to limp and brittle. Looking in the mirror, I hated what I saw. This could not possibly be my hair. And right then I decided I would cut it off. During my second year at high school I made an appointment with a barber, during the August holiday. It felt good to let go of relaxed hair. But it turns out I wasn’t psychologically ready! I was used to having longer hair so I wore a headscarf most of the time before getting used to the new length. In retrospect, maybe my hair would still have been healthy while relaxed if I had known how to take care of it. Maybe. But I was determined to never return to relaxer. It’s been 11 years 5 months since then. 🙂
And so my hair remained in that state until I cleared high school. Braiding became an appealing option now that it was long enough. I made a grave mistake though. Serial braiding. I would take a very short break in between hairstyles. During those breaks I’d have the hair washed and straightened. And since it would start to ‘shrink’ a few days later, it would be plaited again before it got too ‘hard’ for the stylist. Six years. Six years I went through this cycle. Not realizing it was weakening my hair.
The second turning point came in Nov/Dec 2014. I realised my stylist had been telling me “You’ve lost a lot of hair, what happened?” every time she was braiding. I felt I needed to care better for my strands. The internet became my refuge. I found myself admiring black women with healthy natural hair. I was determined to learn how to nurture my hair myself. I did lots of research. For someone who likes getting it right from the beginning, mistakes are a turn-off. I wanted to make sure I only did what’s right. I read so many articles and took equally many notes. I even asked God to lead me to the right blogs and hair products. And He did.
I came across cravingyellow.com, a blog ran by a beautiful lady called Tabitha. She has looong hair, my same hair type, writes so well and simply and she’s Kenyan! Her blog ticked all my boxes. I was sold. Thanks to her tips I avoided many pitfalls that new naturals go through. A good number of the staple hair products I use are because of her advice. Juliet of @igbocurls, Grace of @nappyfu, and Miss Wood of @westafricanbaby are amazing as well. Check them out and follow!
God answered my prayers and led me to the right products. Thankfully, none of them have had negative impact. I’ve had horror stories of people suffering from wrong products… yikes. Below is a list of my staples.
- As I Am Coconut Cowash
- Shea by Asal shampoo bar (Crème of Nature Sulfate-free shampoo has worked for me also)
- IC Fantasia leave-in conditioner (previously I used Crème of Nature Strength and Shine before it went out of stock)
- Rosemary and Jamaican Black Castor Oil, both Mamado brand
- Castor and Olive oil, both Ideal brand
- Tropical Coconut Oil (Alison)
- Hair Strengthening Argan Oil Fortifying Conditioner (ORS)
- Sheth Naturals shea butter (Ajani Handmade hair butter is wonderful too!)
- Water, lots of water.
- And the most vital ingredient of all, Love! If you don’t love your hair it’s hard to treat it well. Even the Bible says love is patient and kind…and it takes patience to nurture your hair and see results.
Remember though, these are the products that have worked for me. You’ve got to research and experiment to find what works for you, because everybody’s hair is different.
Typical Washday/ Daily Regimen
Washday. Many naturals have a love-hate relationship with it. Very important to the health of our strands, yet can leave one exhausted and demotivated. After going through many trials I have found a way of simplifying washday. I begin by saturating my hair with the ORS conditioner diluted in water. This is left on overnight. I apply coconut oil as well. This prepares the strands to receive water during washing. Next is detangling (separating strands from each other and removing knots). I do this in sections, which makes it easier. The conditioner eases friction between strands thus cuts down on breakage. Initially detangling took me 2 hours. Right now I’m down to 1.5 hours and soon enough it will be less than that!
The actual washing now begins. Warm water is best because it removes dirt without stripping your hair of its sebum, as opposed to hot water. I boil some rosemary leaves to get their extract and add it to my washing water. For this step, either the cowash or the shampoo bar is my ‘soap’. I cowash once a week and shampoo once a month. Washing is done in sections as well- makes it so quick and easy! I dry my hair with a leso (African cotton fabric) or old cotton t-shirt then apply my DIY deep-conditioning mix. It contains: coconut, olive, castor, rosemary and Jamaican black castor oils, and honey. I have them pre-mixed in a bottle to save on time. Once a month, I apply mayonnaise in addition to the DC for my protein treatment.
A plastic bag goes over my hair, and on top of that the leso. This traps heat from the scalp to enable the deep-conditioning mix penetrate the strands. I leave this on for 45 min- 1hr and during this time my arms get to rest (hahaa!) as I catch up on my social media pages. Cowash/ shampoo is used to wash out the deep-conditioner but I leave some in to nourish the strands. A black tea rinse follows. Yes, black tea! It helps reduce excessive hair shedding. Never thought I’d put tea in my hair- yet here I am. Final rinse is done with cold water to close the hair cuticles and preserve moisture. The leso/ t-shirt drying comes in again, then I let my hair air-dry before twisting.
I do medium size or mini twists depending on how tired I am or if I want to give my hair a break from weekly detangling. Mini twists are left in for 3-4 weeks before undoing them. For that time I’ll wash them as they are and only retwist those that have come undone or have begun to tangle too much. For those with Type 4 hair like me, minimal styling is critical. Ours is supposedly the ‘toughest’ hair but ironically it’s prone to breakage due to styling often. Leaving my hair in twists for the whole week has been one of my biggest secrets to length retention. A side benefit of twisting is fitness. My arms have become so toned yet I don’t go to the gym!
For my daily regimen, I spray my hair with olive oil mixed in water (I know oil and water don’t mix, please don’t stone me scientists) both morning and at night. I then apply a little shea butter to the ends of the strands to seal in moisture. If going out, I pin down the twists to the back of my head and make sure the ends are tucked in. On weekends I unravel the twists and try out various ways of styling them. When going to sleep, my hair is wrapped in a satin scarf to prevent friction with pillowcase and blankets. This also prevents moisture being snatched from the hair.
Joys and Travails of being a Natural
Going/ returning to natural turns your whole life around. Trust me! I plan my week around washday. On Mondays I’m unavailable because I can’t skip washday. It’s sacrilegious. You have to be conscious of what you eat because hair health begins internally. You constantly have to be conscious of what your hair is touching. If I’m in a vehicle whose seat cover is rough, I can’t rest my head on the seat. When travelling you need a separate bag for hair products. Don’t even get me started on mean/ ignorant comments like: when are you doing your hair? I don’t like how it looks. Why don’t you put relaxer?Relaxer! How dare they! But when I look in the mirror and see my hair healthy and twistouts popping, it gives me so much joy. And finally being able to take care of my hair myself. And the hair growth! My goodness! It used to look like a dream but my hair has really flourished. So much so that those with mean comments have recently told me they admire my mane. Ha!
I’m still struggling with some issues like being gentle with my hair (detangling is a beast), appreciating my ‘unruly’ edges, and re-growing hair on my hairline and the middle of my head. Don’t even suggest JBCO massage- it didn’t work for me so I’m looking for something else. Despite the struggles, I’m happy with the path I chose and how far I’ve come. And I believe I’ll find a solution to the challenges.
Phew! That has been quite an information- packed post right? And there are still things I haven’t included. If you’re considering returning to natural, I highly encourage you to take the plunge. It looks like a lot of work, but anything good worth having takes work. If it’s important to you the end game makes the effort fun. Leave me a note below if you have any questions on my haircare. And yes, I’m still accepting birthday gifts, beat the rush and send yours early! 🙂